- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Although they are mostly nocturnal, I have heard and seen many raccoons in our area over the years.
I’ve seen at least a few mother coons with their litters along waterways in midsummer. I’ve seen some crossing roads, a few looking out of tree hollows, and a couple dumped out of trash cans.
I saw one big male go down a female’s home in a large drainage pipe under a country road during their February breeding season. And I’ve seen several dead raccoons on country roads.
Raccoons are one of the most adaptable, intelligent, and interesting of mammals, all reasons for their success as a species and abundance here and across most of the United States.
Little cousins of bears, raccoons weigh 12–26 pounds as adults; have chunky, hump-backed bodies; and have a black mask over the eyes and dark rings on their tails. And they have five sensitive fingers on each front paw they use to feel for food.
Raccoons eat frogs, crayfish, freshwater mollusks called mussels, and other aquatic creatures along waterways in woodlands and farmland. But being omnivorous, they also eat birds’ eggs, fruit, berries, field corn in the “milk” stage, mice, carrion, and anything else edible they find in their nightly travels.
Some coons live in suburbs and cities, where they can be pests at times. There they consume garbage from trash cans, food from outdoor cat or dog dishes, and vegetables from gardens.
Good climbers, many raccoons live in tree hollows in woods and maturing suburbs. But some dwell in hollow logs, in crevices between boulders, in abandoned woodchuck holes in the ground of woods and pastures, and under utility sheds.
Although raccoons are inquisitive—which, to me, is a sign of intelligence—adult coons are also wary and ready to defend themselves. They are vicious fighters when need be, clawing their opponents with sharp teeth and claws, accompanied by loud screeches and snarls.
Some young coons, however, fall victim to bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, bears, eastern coyotes, and bobcats.
In fall, raccoons have long fur and layers of fat that will see them through winter. They are active all winter, except during times of extreme cold or deep snow, when they stay in their dens for a few days until weather conditions improve.
Raccoons are common, interesting mammals in Central Pennsylvania, as elsewhere across the United States. And, although they are mostly nocturnal, some are noticed going about their business during the day.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.